What to watch for as Spurs try to avoid season sweep to Mavericks

SAN ANTONIO, TX - FEBRUARY 26: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks shoots as Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs watches during second half action at AT&T Center on February 26, 2020 in San Antonio, Texas. Dallas Mavericks defeated the San Antonio Spurs 109-103. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - FEBRUARY 26: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks shoots as Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs watches during second half action at AT&T Center on February 26, 2020 in San Antonio, Texas. Dallas Mavericks defeated the San Antonio Spurs 109-103. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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SAN ANTONIO, TX – FEBRUARY 26: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks shoots as Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs watches. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX – FEBRUARY 26: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks shoots as Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs watches. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs will take the floor without some of their best players as they try to avoid a season sweep by the Dallas Mavericks.

Their already thin playoff hopes were on the receiving end of another blow yesterday as the San Antonio Spurs announced that Dejounte Murray had suffered a calf strain against the Cleveland Cavaliers. After rolling through the season with a near-perfect bill of health the Spurs have lost quite a few players to injury over the past weeks.

San Antonio could take the floor against the Dallas Mavericks tonight without Murray, Jakob Poeltl, LaMarcus Aldridge, Lonnie Walker, and Marco Belinelli. They’re not alone in their struggles, Dallas will be without Seth Curry, Jalen BrunsonDwight Powell, Michael Kidd-GilchristWillie Cauley-Stein, and Dorian Finney-Smith. Luka Doncic is also a question mark for tonight’s game.

The piling losses have taken a toll on the morale of the Spurs fanbase but being swept by our in-state rival Mavericks would be a tough pill to swallow. We certainly didn’t expect the series to go 4-0 in favor of our boys but a total sweep would just be embarrassing. Playoff hopes notwithstanding, tonight’s game matters simply in terms of pride.

How both teams handle their respective battles with the injury bug will be a key point to watch in tonight’s game but other points deserve your attention as well. Here are three things to watch for in tonight’s home contest.

Next: Derrick White enters the starting lineup

PORTLAND, OREGON – FEBRUARY 06: Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts in the second quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers during a game at Moda Center (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OREGON – FEBRUARY 06: Derrick White #4 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts in the second quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers during a game at Moda Center (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Derrick White returns to the starting lineup

With Dejounte Murray out for the foreseeable future, Derrick White seems the like the likely replacement in the starting lineup. It’s a role he’s taken on before and the Spurs should be able to function nearly as well as they did before with him taking the lead.

One area that will be particularly interesting will be how White’s on-court chemistry with DeMar DeRozan could change with him taking on a larger role. The two have already shared the court quite a bit this year. White has played more with DeRozan than he has with anyone else besides Patty Mills.

So far the two have a -2 net rating in their minutes together, with the negative split coming from their performance on defense. If there was ever a time for DeMar to improve his defense it would be now.

One promising opportunity that San Antonio could take advantage of could be hunting for even more minutes featuring Mills, Rudy Gay, and White. Those three have played well together this year. An upgraded version of that lineup could feature Keldon Johnson as well. Together the four have logged just 21 minutes over three games together but the results have been promising.

Getting creative with lineups is a necessity for San Antonio at this point. Their clean bill of health has allowed Gregg Popovich to be very consistent with his rotations. That’s not the case anymore and it’ll be fascinating to see how he adapts.

Next: Who guards Kristaps Porzingis?

MIAMI, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 28: Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the Dallas Mavericks looks on against the Miami Heat during the second half. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 28: Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the Dallas Mavericks looks on against the Miami Heat during the second half. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Containing Kristaps

Losing Dejounte Murray hurts but perhaps not quite as much as losing Jakob Poeltl and LaMarcus Aldridge. Plain and simple, the Spurs have more adequate replacements for Murray than they do their two big men.

We saw what happened against the Cleveland Cavaliers with Jakob and LaMarcus out. Andre Drummond and Kevin Love dominated San Antonio on the boards. The two combined for 35 rebounds as the Cavaliers took a dominant 60 to 44 advantage in that statistic.

It’s not going to get any easier for San Antonio tonight. Kristaps Porzingis has been a beast for the Mavericks over the past 12 games and could be asked to take on an even larger role with Doncic out.

Over the past 12 contests he’s been averaging 25 points, 11 rebounds, and close to 3 blocks a night. His dominance isn’t likely to be slowed by the not so imposing defense duo of Drew Eubanks and Rudy Gay.

The Spurs will have to slow him down by denying him the ball and sending doubles frequently. Without Seth Curry, the Mavericks are missing their best 3-point shooter. Tim Hardaway Jr. is still a threat but San Antonio should still make forcing Porzingis to kick it out a point of emphasis. Better than that then letting him simply elevate and shoot over the Spurs undersized big men.

Next: More playing time for the young guys

CLEVELAND, OHIO – MARCH 08: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talks with Dejounte Murray #5, Keldon Johnson #3 and Trey Lyles #41 during the first half. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO – MARCH 08: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs talks with Dejounte Murray #5, Keldon Johnson #3 and Trey Lyles #41 during the first half. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

More playing time for the young guys

One of the silver linings of the Spurs dwindling playoff odds and injury troubles has been the increased playing time that we’ve seen for many of the Spurs rookies.

Keldon Johnson has been the main benefactor in all of this. He’s played over 15 minutes in each of the Spurs’ last three games and could be in line for a similar workload tonight. He’s still got a ways to go before he’s ready to be a consistent role player but there are already parts of his game that are NBA ready.

He’s an aggressive and persistent defender and a strong attacker. His touch from outside needs work but he’s shown no hesitation when attacking the rim. Ready or not he plays the game with an infectious energy that you love to see from a rookie who is clearly hungry for his shot.

We finally saw Luka Samanic make his NBA debut in Brooklyn last week. He didn’t connect on any of his shots but he wasn’t shy about letting it go from deep and he showed off the playmaking ability that is so intriguing for Spurs fans. He’s as close to a unicorn as the Spurs have right now and he could see a greater workload tonight.

Next. Top NBA Draft prospects to watch in the 2020 ACC Tournament

After back to back tough losses the Spurs could really use a win. Even if their playoff hopes are all but toast it would least save them the embarrassment of a season sweep at the hands of their rivals.

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